Toy Auto Man: No Toying Around for Santa Fe's Toyota Service Center

Jan. 1, 2020
If all it takes is being the right person in the right place at the right time, Stephen Inoue was perfectly poised for opportunity. Having long observed the repair industry as a technician, a manager and even a drag racer, when he was hired on at San
If all it takes is being the right person in the right place at the right time, Stephen Inoue was perfectly poised for opportunity. Having long observed the repair industry as a technician, a manager and even a drag racer, when he was hired on at Santa Fe's Toy Auto Man — an alteration of "Toyota Man" to avoid trademark infringement by the Japanese giant — he found the original owner not merely open to his ideas, but willing to sell him the shop. Joined by his wife Claudia, this "old school" concern was like clay to be molded by the couple.
"The first thing that we brought in was current technology," explains Inoue. "The original owner had been working on the floor for 20 years with just floor jacks, so we brought in state-of-the-art lifts and diagnostic computers that could adequately check OBD (onboard diagnostic) systems. Then I brought in mechanics who had been in the industry for quite a long time." Word of the shop's makeover spread, and not just on the technical level: the previous owner already had established a four-day workweek, an idea that Inoue retained. Plus, Inoue added guaranteed minimums for all of the technicians.
"I've been involved in the service industry since 1972," he relates. "In my mind, commission work tends to promote less than best quality work. And I prefer to work harder for four days and see people who work for me have more time with their families."
So is he afraid of losing a certain percentage of business this way? "It is a little bit of a concern," he admits. "We have some customers that only have Fridays or weekends off, but we have enough business that we're managing well; business has been growing every year, a minimum of 8 to 10 percent since I bought the business in 2000."
And he also cautioned his technicians to take their time repairing a car. "I find that it's much more profitable to make sure little details are taken care of," explains Inoue. "This cuts down on customers bringing their cars back in."
As part of his effort to keep high quality technicians on the payroll, Inoue recently started a simple retirement plan.
"I don't really try to follow the standard business practices," he acknowledges of this uncommon move. "I'm just trying to look at things long-term for the employees' benefit. I want to keep my guys happy. I am constantly reading and doing what I can do to improve myself as a manager and improve the business, and looking at different ways to keep the compensation packages current and attractive to the employees.
"We also have a more personal attitude as far as taking care of our clients," Inoue continues. "We do calls from time to time when we have notes in our files about upcoming repairs. We don't hard sell any services; we always give people options and priority lists of repairs that are coming up so that they can figure out what they can afford. If they want to go somewhere else and take care of them, that's fine. We just want to make sure they're driving safely." After refining the old shop as far as they could, the Inoues furthered their vision by creating something from the ground up. Purchasing close to an acre of land on Airport Road in Santa Fe in 2005, the couple built a totally new shop with a bigger, better service area and something the old shop could never provide — a decorous waiting area with Internet access.
"I would say I'm about 98 percent happy with the results," he reports.

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